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Salvia divinorum, despite sounding like a spell from the world of Harry Potter, can't turn you into an inanimate object, make you leave your body, or set your feet on fire. However, it can make you FEEL like all of those things are happening. This little plant is a hallucinogen - one so powerful and unique that the DEA isn't quite sure how to regulate it. Hank's got the details on this psychotropic member of the sage genus in this episode of SciShow.

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Hank Green: Salvia divinorum! Sounds like it's straight out of the Standard Book of Spells Grade 2, doesn't it. And while it can't turn you into an inanimate object, make you leave your body, or set your feet on fire, it can definitely make you feel like all that stuff is happening, because it's a hallucinogen -- a hallucinogen so powerful and unique even the war on drugs people aren't quite sure what to make of it. [intro music] Salvia divinorum is a member of the the Lamiaceae family, which includes many herbs like mint, rosemary, and thyme. It's one of nearly a thousand species in the sage genus, but it is the only one known to be psychotropic. Like, really psychotropic. Also called Seer's Sage, this meter-high perennial plant grows in southern Mexico and has long been used by Mazatec shamans in religious rituals and vision questing. It is the most powerful naturally occurring hallucinogen that we know of. Its leaves can be chewed raw or made into a tincture, but the most popular and potent way of ingesting Salvia is to smoke the dried leaves. Once inhaled, the resulting high is immediate, intense, and short-lived, typically lasting only 5-10 minutes although those minutes might feel like hellish eternity if the trip is a little bit bad. There's no evidence that the drug is toxic or addictive, although like any mind-altering substance that pokes hard at the deep recesses of the brain, it can disrupt a fragile psyche. In addition to being hallucinogenic, the drug has strong dissociative properties, which means that users may feel completely disconnected from their bodies and pretty much totally out of their gourds. You'll know what I mean if you search for "salvia" on YouTube and click any one of the 200,000 links of sweaty, drooling, incapacitated boneheads thoroughly tweaking out on video. I mean, come on, guys, it's called discretion. Here's the thing, though -- most of them are doing it legally. Although Salvia is illegal in several US states, the Drug Enforcement Agency has it listed only as a "drug of concern", and not an illegal substance on the federal level. You may be wondering how this can be, given Big Brother's penchant for monitoring nearly everything. Well, the DEA regulates substances partially by comparing their effects to already regulated drugs, and Salvia affects the brain in such a unique way that it is incomparable to other drugs. The primary psychoactive component in Salvia is called salvinorin A. Part of a group of naturally-occurring chemicals called diterpenoids, it affects brain receptors similar to those susceptible to opiates like morphine, but does so without activating the classic euphoric and addictive results. Salvinorin A works in a relatively simple way, as it binds to just one type of receptor called the kappa opioid receptor, whereas most drugs stimulate lots of receptors. LSD, for example, stimulates about 50. Because Salvia affects the brain in such a specific, localized way, it has enormous potential to be altered or synthesized into a treatment for chronic pain, Alzheimer's, depression, and even addiction to other drugs. [on-screen text: Learn more about hallucinogens as medicine] And because it came on the American radar relatively recently, there's still a lot of research to be done before it can be fully understood, but pharmacologists fear the criminalization of the plant will make clinical testing difficult. So, thoughts? We've already talked about how the drug working get in the way of clinical testing, and of course my preferred way of experimenting with revised realities has more to do with Assassin's Creed and Super Mario Kart, but you might have other ideas. And thank you for watching SciShow. If you have any comments or questions or ideas, you can find us on Facebook and Twitter or in the comments below, and if you wanna keep getting smarter with us, you can go to youtube.com/scishow and subscribe. [outro music]